Federal appeals court considers felons’ voting rights case

Published: Aug. 18, 2020 at 6:46 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCJB) - As Floridians go to the polls, the fate of some felons’ voting rights is being considered in a federal appeals court.

The voting rights of an estimated 700,000 felons deemed too poor to pay legal financial obligations tied to their conviction hang in the balance of this case.

Attorneys representing the felons argue tying voting rights to payment is in essence, a poll tax.

“When it comes to voting, the size of a person’s pocketbook alone should never dictate access to the ballot box,” said Nancy Abudu, attorney from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The state argued because felons have committed a crime, the financial obligations shouldn't be considered a tax.

“There is nothing more germane to conditioning their eligibility on than that they pay their debt to society,” said Charles Cooper, the attorney representing the State of Florida.

Another issue in the case is the difficulty felons face even determining how much they owe.

The state is offering advisory opinions to help felons determine if their eligible to vote.

Only nine opinions have been rendered so far.

“This is a setup for failure and essentially will result in people, if there is any question, erring on the side probably of not voting,” said Abudu.

Until the case is resolved, Secretary of State Laurel Lee says the state will continue requiring felons to pay before they can vote.

“The amendment is in force as it was written and as it was given to us by voters,” said Florida Secretary of State, Laurel Lee.

Several judges questioned whether the voting rights amendment itself was unconstitutional, but both the state and the plaintiffs made it clear they don't want to see it struck down.

No matter how the court rules an appeal is expected.

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